For someone who's so against religion I sure do seem to talk about it a whole lot. But today's Good Friday, the day that Christians have traditionally used to commemorate the death of Jesus. So I'm allowed to talk about religion today.
I read a stunningly powerful quote here: Chasing Slow. Erin Loechner says, "Without grace, minimalism is another metric for perfection."
Without grace, minimalism is just another metric for perfection.
Jesus lived to give the religious people of his day a hard time. He only criticized them, his whole life, he criticized no one else. Their legalistic, duty-bound mindset disgusted him, and the idea that through keeping all these made-up laws they could reach God was offensive to him.
We too chase "degrees of higher perfection" as the LBC put it through lawfulness, holiness, duty—and there's nothing wrong with trying to be a good person. But pharisaical religiosity devoid of compassion, when we're only practicing our morality just to be seen, that's what Jesus rebuked time and time again.
White-washed tombs, he called those people. So clean on the outside yet so dead and stinky on the inside. So many of today's Christians are white-washed tombs. It looks like they have all the answers, they have such perfect lives, but when you get a bit closer you start to smell it. The stink of a spiritually dead person.
It just occurred to me that I use the word 'religiosity' a lot. Do you know what I mean by that? Like, I mean, excessively and publicly religious, like religious to the point of making people around you uncomfortable. I mean like, moral superiority and fakeness on overdrive.
Jesus said, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" to these people in several different places. It was his way of saying, "Without grace, minimalism is another metric for perfection." He desires that we be kind, genuinely kind, merciful, gracious, giving, forgiving, and patient. The sacrifices, the rituals, the rule-keeping—none of that interested Jesus.
The Bible says it's God's kindness that leads people to repentance. Not God's judgment, chastisement, finger-pointing, or condemnation. Jesus himself said, "If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world" (John 12:27).
In the end, minimalism can be just another duty to uphold with religious fervor or minimalism can be a means of living open-handedly, generously, compassionately, and with an outward focus.
Without grace, without mercy, without kindness, without the "heart stuff," minimalism is another way to compare yourself to others. Or another metric by which you harshly judge yourself.
This was Jesus' criticism of religion. Public religious practice without grace is just a big ol' pissing contest and Jesus knew it. It didn't impress him.
Today I was reading about how the Republican party began and BOY WERE THINGS DIFFERENT BACK THEN. Did you know that the Republicans began as an anti-slavery movement? Did you know some Democrats called the Republicans "subhuman" and "lizards" for being against slavery? and compared them to—GASP!—feminists???
Republicans being chastised for siding with African Americans and being accused of feminism. That was a different world. Those Republicans were very different from today's Republicans, many of whom are perfectly fine with racism and misogyny.
In the same way that today's Republicans are a different breed, today's Baptists are a different breed. The Baptist Church began as a religious liberty movement. The early Baptists elevated the role of the conscience and of agency. We don't need a priest or a presbytery telling us how to read the Bible, we can make up our own minds about spiritual things.
They were against making vows and oaths and paying homage and submitting to any religious authority other than God. They were against the duty-empty-of-grace that they called "popishness" and against monasticism. They were a movement that was all about our freedoms to worship however we please and do as we see fit.
I'll quote them one more time because I love this:
"God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or not contained in it.
So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also."
The doctrines of men that you won't find in his word, that sometimes run contrary to his word, all the made-up rules and regulations, all the work and the duty and the law—they say that to obey those man-made rules is to betray who God made you to be.
Don't turn in your God-given freedoms, don't submit yourself to some religious authority that God never intended for you to submit yourself to, don't ever follow any kind of man-made religion with blind obedience. God gave you a conscience, a consciousness, an agency—don't betray that. Live according to your conscience. Trust yourself.
That's why I follow Jesus' words. Jesus commanded us only to love God and love others. Just love God and love others. That's all.
There's no study guide you've got to buy, no list of checkboxes to check off and rules to maintain everyday, there's no governing body telling you what you can and can't do. Just Jesus' command to be kind and your own conscience. What more do you need?
I'd highly encourage you to read Matthew 5-7, it's a summary of Jesus' teachings. It's all common sense stuff. You don't need a religion, you just need to know how to think for yourself, and Jesus' words are an excellent jumping-off point to exploring your own spirituality.
As far as church goes, I still go. I'm on my way to church as soon as I hit send on this journal entry. But I don't go to follow the rules and I don't go thinking that going will make me a better person. Just going to church doesn't make you a better person.
I go because I found a place where they're also interested in talking about what Jesus had to say and because everyone needs community. I go because historically, the church has been a massive vehicle for doing good in the world. Think of all the hospitals that were started by a church. Think of all of the sick and hungry people a good church has helped.
The key there: A good church. A church that understands all this, that honors our God-given freedoms, teaches us how to be decent people, and expects kindness from us. A church that sends us out with the resources we need to do what Jesus asked us to do, that is, to love people.
Put away all of the metrics for perfection—you're literally never going to be perfect. Strive instead to be authentic. To be real. To live according to your conscience. The only thing that you have to be out of a sense of duty is, you have to be kind. That's all. Religious minimalism: Be real and be kind. You're doing "the Lord's work."